How – To: Slice, Dice, and Chop and Onion

January 15, 2020
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It’s one of those kitchen tasks that we do over and over again and yet it’s one of those tasks that many home cooks dread. Let’s break down the basics to make sure you’re making it as easy as possible for yourself to cut up an onion!

The Difference Between “Dicing” and “Chopping”

Technically, “dice” is used to describe smaller pieces and the word “chop” is used for larger pieces but sometimes the words are used interchangeably. I also think that when a recipe calls for a “chopped” onion, that’s usually referencing a cut that can be more rustic rather than precise.

Generally speaking, “chop” is more casual and “dice” is more specific. Occasionally you’ll see “minced” onion called for in a recipe, that just means a really small dice! Regardless of the cut, be sure you have a comfortable knife to work with. This will help you be safe and accurate while breaking down your onion!

…and if a recipe calls for “chunks” or a “rough chop”?

Occasionally a recipe will call for “chunks”, but most recipes will ask you to either mince, chop, or dice vegetables. When specifying “chunks” the vegetables usually need to be in fairly large pieces, such as for stock. So when you come across chunks or rough chop in a recipe, you should feel comfortable roughly chopping up your vegetables, keeping the pieces around the same size and quite large.

When do I need to be concerned about the size?

The size of the vegetables referenced in recipes matters because it influences how long they take to cook, the texture, and taste of the finished dish. For instance, a larger piece of onion is going to cook slower than a smaller piece and as a result, will taste different and have a different texture.

One note on onions…when adding raw onions to recipes, they should be either minced or sliced thin as they can be quite pungent, but cooked onions are sweeter, so they can stand being larger.

Slicing Onions

When slicing onions, you handle them just a bit differently. Follow these steps:

  1. Trim the top off: Cut enough off the onion that you cut through all the papery outer layers and expose the onion rings.
  2. Trim off the root end (optional): I feel that cutting away the root end makes it a bit easier to cut very thin, very neat slices. Leave the root attached if you’d like a little more stability as you slice.
  3. Slice in half: Stand the onion on one of the cut sides and slice it in half.
  4. Peel the papery onion skin from both halves.
  5. Lay one half on the counter, like a dome. Turn the onion so that you’ll be slicing along the lines of longitude, from top end to root end.
  6. Beginning on one end, slice radially toward the center. Hold your knife at a slight angle and cut slightly inwards, toward the middle of the onion. The first few slices don’t need to actually need to go all the way through to the very center. Just work radially from the side to the center, gradually increasing the angle of the cut as you work toward the center.
  7. When you reach the middle of the onion, stop and tip it over: This makes it easier to slice the other half of the onion without holding your knife at an awkward angle. Now you can cut this part of the onion the same way you cut the first part.
  8. Slice the rest of the onion as you did before. Be careful when you start to get to the middle so that your knife doesn’t slip. Keep your fingers out of the way as best you can! (If you left the root end attached, cut it away once you’re completely finished slicing the onion.)
  9. Repeat with the other half of the onion.

How to avoid crying when cutting an onion

The trick to avoiding tears is to keep your exposure to the cut sides of the onion to a minimum. The “fumes” and juices that are released while cutting onions irritate the eyes. 

When cutting an onion in half, keep the cut sides down on the cutting board as much as possible. Keep the onion together with the root so you don’t expose the cuts. When making your final cuts, work fast and move the chopped onions into a prep bowl or skillet quickly.